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Grant to help Easton students learn music

EASTON, Maine — Pamela Kinsey has been teaching music in Easton for more than 30 years and is just as passionate as ever about students learning to play instruments.

Easton is one of 22 Maine school districts that each received $5,000 worth of instruments in the second year of the Maine Kids Rock Initiative, part of a national music education grant program that Kinsey helped get going in Maine.

“It’s a fresh way of looking at music education. It get kids engaged at a different level,” Kinsey said.

The Little Kids Rock national initiative provides schools with popular band instruments such as guitars, ukuleles and drums, as well as teaching resources, with a focus on school districts that have significant numbers of students from lower-income backgrounds.

Kinsey helped the Little Kids Rock initiative partner with the Maine Department of Education after learning about the nonprofit grant program at a conference in 2016 in Texas while serving as president of the Maine Music Educators Association.   

“I said you need to come to Maine,” she recalls telling one of the group’s leaders. The next year, the Kids Rock organization made a presentation to the Maine Music Educators Association and partnered with the MDOE, which issued its first round of Kids Rock grants last year.

Among the 10 school systems funded last year were three in northern Maine — Houlton Middle/High School; Katahdin elementary, middle, and high schools; and Medway Middle School. Among the 22 schools funded this year are Easton, Dr. Levesque Elementary School in Frenchville and Woodland Consolidated School.

Kinsey said the grant should go a long way toward increasing interest in music among youths by offering them modern band instruments and entry-level lessons that let students play along to modern pop and rock music.

“Music might not be your thing. All of a sudden you get to play guitar, or electric bass, or a drum set, or a ukulele, and you’re playing rock songs, with one note or one chord at a time.”

Kinsey said she just received the instruments in mid-October and hopes to start incorporating them into her sixth grade music class this semester.

Students won’t be able to take the instruments home, but they can use them during free time in school, she said.

The new instruments also may open up new possibilities for Easton’s traditional band programming, which includes elementary and high school bands and high school chorus and jazz bands, Kinsey said.

The district usually has several musical performances over the academic year, with some of the music being selected by Kinsey and other music selected by students. Now, those bands will have new instruments that can be involved and diversify what they play.

“It really will be driven by the student interest,” Kinsey said.

The Kids Rock initiative also brought Easton together with one of its alumni, Kinsey added. The nonprofit organization sources instruments from the Sweetwater music company in Indiana, where one of Kinsey’s former students, Andrew Rice, now works.

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